There always seems to be an excuse to sidestep healthy eating: an out-of-town guest is visiting, you’re attending a wedding, or the long-awaited weekend has finally arrived. Whatever the excuse, though, it’s not worth its salt. Eating healthfully shouldn’t be something you decide to start doing tomorrow or put on hold for a night out with friends. It’s a lifestyle change that needs to fit seamlessly into your everyday life—including your social life.
If you’re new to the Paleo lifestyle, it can seem especially daunting to find a balance between socializing with non-Paleo crowds and eating healthfully. Something as simple as brunch with friends can turn into a stressful endeavor. While none of us want to be the annoying friend who can only eat at certain “Paleo-approved” restaurants and turns the ordering process into the Spanish Inquisition, we also don’t want to resign ourselves to staying home as our safest option. The following suggestions can help you conquer your fear of missing out while keeping your inner hunter-gatherer healthy and satisfied.
Start Before You Go Out
You may have heard of the 80/20 principle; I’m not a fan of this concept. Most people interpret this as eating healthful foods 80 percent of the time, and eating whatever you want for a “cheat day” the other 20 percent. Ideally, you should aim to eat primally the majority of the time, with occasional exceptions for special gatherings or those instances where you face limited food options. This will probably land you somewhere near the 80/20 ratio, but it’s unwise to use the principle as an excuse to eat junk food 20 percent of the time. If you’re implementing a Paleo plan in a balanced way, you’ll automatically be consuming delicious, nutrient-dense foods and feeling consistently satisfied with your choices. When you’re getting sufficient dietary quality, diversity, and nutrition, sugar-laden junk food like donuts or ice cream won’t really tempt you. Aim to stay Paleo most of the time, and when you do go out with friends, relax and don’t sweat the small deviations. This doesn’t mean diving into the breadbasket or wolfing down an order of fried mozzarella sticks. It means that if your steak isn’t local, grass-fed, and USDA Certified Organic, or if the restaurant cooks with “vegetable” oil, it’s not the end of the world.
Do Your Research
It’s very helpful to know ahead of time which restaurant you’re patronizing. If possible, Google the menu in advance. Consider the restaurant’s type of cuisine or specialty dish. Is it killer tacos? A shell-less taco topped with fresh salsa and guacamole will be delicious—no grains required. Do they make a mean double-stacked bacon burger? Ask to have it lettuce-wrapped. Remember, the bun and tortilla are just the vessels for the real food inside; if the restaurant relies on their taco shells or burger buns to make the dish tasty, then their food is clearly not high-quality. Most every menu offers entrée salads and seasonal veggies and will allow certain substitutions. There are plenty of modifications you can request without making things too complicated.
“Special Occasions” Should Actually Be Special
We’ve gotten so used to calling everything a special occasion that nothing is special anymore. Taco Tuesday, a backyard BBQ, or Sunday brunch doesn’t qualify as a special occasion if it’s a weekly occurrence. These all sound super fun, and you can certainly enjoy them, but don’t blow your diet for each and every outing. Eating out is no longer reserved for birthdays or milestone celebrations, since everyday power-lunches and takeout runs have become the new norm. Be deliberate about your menu selections and save the splurges for real, honest-to-goodness special occasions, the kind that come only once or twice a year.
Know Your Body
Whether you’re out on the town with friends or attending a formal dinner party, know your body’s limitations. If you are sensitive or intolerant to wheat, don’t make an exception for pasta or cake! The key is knowing yourself well enough to make informed choices. Keep in mind that food reactions aren’t always (or even often) immediate, and that tolerating something doesn’t mean it should become a permanent part of your diet. Paleo is about eating healthy, clean, nutritionally dense food for long-term health and well-being. It’s not about finding ways to constantly game the system.
When Paleo is your lifestyle and not just a diet, you’re in it for the long haul. There is no cheating or putting it on the back-burner for a weekend. Every choice you make is just that: a choice. Don’t miss out on a party because you’re nervous that you won’t be able to find something to eat, but if your friends are trying to goad you into getting the Death-by-Chocolate Fudge Mousse “because you deserve it,” you might need new friends.
Be confident, blending in as best you can, but stay committed and don’t apologize for the way you choose to live your life. Show your social circle that you can still have a great time without compromising your health.